Bare Ruined Choirs

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That time of year thou mayst in me behold
When yellow leaves, or none, or few do hang
Upon the boughs which shake against the cold,
Bare ruin’d choirs, where late the sweet birds sang….
          ~William Shakespeare, Sonnet LXXIII

Here in Middle Tennessee winter has finally come, hopscotching over autumn entirely. This year the miserable heat of summer lingered and lingered and lingered, and the drought deepened and deepened and deepened, from moderate to severe to extreme. Most leaves simply curled up from the edges, fading from green to brown and then dropping to the ground with hardly a flare of color to remind us that the world is turning, that the world is only a great blue ball rolling down a great glass hill with nary a pebble to slow its descent, and gaining speed with each rotation.

My favorite season is spring—until fall arrives, and then my favorite season is fall: the seasons of change, the seasons that remind me to wake up, to remember that every passing moment of every careening day is always the last moment, always the very last time, always the only instant I will ever take that precise breath or watch that exact cloud scud across that particular blue of the sky. Every day is always the last day, spring, summer, winter, or fall. How foolish it is for a mortal being to need such reminders, but oh how much easier it is to remember to pay attention when the world itself beckons, when the world holds out its cupped hands and says, “Lean close. Look at this!” This leaf will never again be exactly this shade of crimson. The nestlings in the euonymous just beyond the window will never again be this bald or this blind. Nothing gold can stay.

And yet winter has its compensations, too. The bare limbs of the sycamore reveal the mockingbird nest it sheltered all summer, unseen barely a foot above my head, and the night sky spreads out its stars so profligately that the streetlights are only a nuisance, and the red-shouldered hawk fluffs its feathers over its cold yellow feet and surveys the earth with such stillness I could swear it wasn’t turning at all.